The D.C. government’s refusal to recognize the full meaning of the Second Amendment has serious consequences for those who put their lives on the line to uphold the Constitution. First Sgt. Matthew Corrigan fought insurgents in Iraq with weapons provided by the U.S. Army, but the nation’s capital threw him in jail for two weeks because he had failed to register three personal guns and some ammunition.
(This is part three in a four-part series. Click here to read the story from part one.)
The District found the guns after a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) SWAT team raided Sgt. Corrigan’s home on Feb. 3, 2010. He was arrested without charges, according to court papers, and taken first to a Veterans Affairs hospital. When he was released on Feb. 5, police officers were waiting. They handcuffed Sgt. Corrigan and finally read the soldier his Miranda rights, according to court papers, charging him with three counts of unregistered guns and seven counts of possession of ammunition.
The police took the reservist to the 5th District station, where they put him in an open booking cell before questioning him. Sgt. Corrigan’s then-girlfriend, now-wife, Chetna Lal drove to the station but was told she couldn’t see him. She said she was told to wait at D.C. Superior Court for an arraignment that never happened.
Because of “Snowmageddon,” Sgt. Corrigan said, most of the other people in police custody were released with an order to come back for arraignment at a later date. He said he asked an officer to check on his case and was told, “You know what you’re in here for; there’s no way you’re being released.”
The court had shut down early because of the weather. “They said that maybe they would be able to arraign … on Saturday morning,” Sgt. Corrigan recalled. “Then Saturday came, and they said court was closed, and it would have to wait until Tuesday because Monday was closed because of the snow.”
In all, Sgt. Corrigan spent four nights in the D.C. Central Detention Facility without being allowed even a phone call. Although the soldier had spent a month living on a rooftop in Iraq, he called Central “the worst place,” particularly when trying to sleep through the “nighttime screamers.” By Monday, he was still in jail, unable to explain his absence from his job as a statistician at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Finally, on Tuesday morning, Sgt. Corrigan had his first hearing. Because he hadn’t been allowed to make a call to hire a lawyer, he was assigned a public defender, who asked him a few basic questions. But when the case was called, the court-appointed lawyer did not appear. Another public defender, who knew nothing about the case, merely entered a not-guilty plea. The judge set the next court date and remanded Sgt. Corrigan to a halfway house.
Later, the reservist was told that because of the snowstorm, there was no room for him in a halfway house and he had to go to the D.C. jail. That meant he had to turn in his clothes, change into an orange jumpsuit, go through a medical evaluation and be classified.
Sgt. Corrigan’s family and friends were desperate to find him, but they were unable to do so because city bureaucrats had not entered his correct name or birth date into the system. The jail administrator wrote “Carrington” on the sergeant’s prison wrist badge. Sgt. Corrigan protested, saying no one would be able to find him with the wrong name on his records, but he was assured that he could be found with his prison identification number. Not so, as this jail ID was associated with the wrong name and birth date.
Ms. Lal said she was turned away from the prison four times as she frantically attempted to find him. “I think this kind of thing would happen in India,” she said of the country of her birth. “But not in a billion years would I think this would happen in the United States of America.”
After the arraignment, word quickly spread through the jail population that the soldier they now called “21 Guns” could be a source for illegal weapons. After about five days of inmate badgering, Sgt. Corrigan requested to be put in protective custody.
The conditions in protective custody turned out to be worse than among the general population, he said. He was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. When taken to any kind of administrative appointment within the jail, he was shackled. One night, he woke up to his cellmate attempting to strangle him with a towel. An experienced soldier, he was able to defend himself until the guards made their regular rounds.
Finally, a friend who is a Navy judge advocate general officer succeeded in tracking down Sgt. Corrigan in the jail. Ms. Lal was able to hire an attorney, who secured the soldier’s release on his own recognizance at 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 20.
He returned home 17 days after his arrest to an apartment that had been ransacked by the police and a paper saying that if he didn’t pick up his dog, Matrix, within three days, the canine could be “euthanized.” Thankfully, Ms. Lal rescued the soldier’s beloved dog just in time. Spokesmen for MPD and the D.C. attorney general’s office both declined to comment.
From 2010 until the government dismissed all charges in May, Sgt. Corrigan was forced to abide by conditions of his court release. That meant checking into the courthouse weekly, attending mandatory mental health appointments and undergoing weekly urine testing for drugs.
The D.C. court also banned him from touching a firearm. “They basically took away my military career for two years,” he said. That is a recurring theme in Washington. The armed forces had trusted Sgt. Corrigan to carry deadly weapons, and still does, but the District does not.
The final part of the story tomorrow will detail the police cover-up of questionable actions during the SWAT raid.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at the Washington Times. Her series on the District’s gun laws won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.